Grief for a Car

August 9, 2011

Yesterday, I cleaned out my car.

This act is miracle–and challenge– enough, as anyone who has ridden with me knows.

But it was especially challenging yesterday, for I have sold my car. 

I had to go through the glove box (have you ever thought about the origin of that name?), the pockets behind the front seats–deep and large in my car, the side panels in the back, and under the seats.

Thankfully, I had cleaned it out a few weeks ago from ‘normal’ stuff–paper cups, junk mail, empty cigarette packs, board games I took to the beach–the usual build-up that comes daily and can grow quickly, if not promptly addressed.

But yesterday, it was a more thorough cleaning–and it had been years, since I attempted such a feat. I was amazed at what I found. Like some woman’s purse on the TV game show, was it The Price is Right?, I kept pulling out interesting and odd and comical things from the compartments, as well as the ordinary ketchup packs and kleenex, maps, ice scrapers (3), umbrellas (2), and a first aid kit.

There were gloves–although not in the glove compartment, two pairs of scissors and three rolls of scotch tape. One never knows when a gift must be purchased on the run..and wrapped in the car. I was well prepared.

There was a headlamp I used on many camping trips and to see things at night when my hands were full; a bicycle tire pressure-gaugey-thing, I have forgotten how to use, as well as a small mace cannister, also a helpful tool when bicycling, especially when a giant German Shepherd comes out of nowhere, growling and gaining on you.

There was a lint roller so old and buried deep, I believe I recognized fabric from a long-ago “preacher” suit, and a note from a parishioner telling me the tape recording of the service didn’t work that Sunday. I left the parish ministry in 2005. I also discovered a few old cassettes of sermons I am curious to listen to..

There were two foreign coins that I couldn’t identify because I didn’t have my glasses on, but I’m sure the trips were wonderful. All of them have been.

There was a city map of Santa Fe, complete with a walking tour of historic sites, our family trekked in 1999. It was from our big trip out west one year when the boys were young–1999? –to places like Durango where we backpacked on the Colorado Trail and caught the old steam engine train that took us high into the mountains to the Silver Mining town; to Mesa Verde where we camped for three days, visited the archeological wonder of the cliff dwellers, and I had a mystical experience with a coyote;  to Arches National Park and the red rocks of Utah where we hiked and jeepd through the Moab Desert.

I also found a brochure on the historic Lodge and town of Glenwood, Colorado where thousands of visitors since 1895 have enjoyed the healing waters of the hot springs, and where we soaked and swam towards the end of our long trip.  It was such a fun and amazing trip.

So, you might guess what happened as I filled trash bags with items, sorted and cleaned. I laughed. I cried. I sat very still while I handled each object, looked at it, tried to remember.

I have driven that 1996 Explorer for thirteen years, since 1998.  A long, long time in anyone’s life, and especially when your children are now twenty-one and twenty-five. That means they were eight and twelve when we purchased the car, and so you can imagine all that has taken place in the car and through the car–what it has held, not just soccer balls and a car full of young people, but hundreds, even thousands of memories of times and trips.

Special times like a long trip to New York City after 911 and then on to Maine to ski and visit Stephen and Cathy.

And ordinary times, like hundreds of daily trips to school, going the nine miles over the Young Harris Mountain and through Hiawassee, crossing the lake. I remembered how excited my boys would be when we stopped at the Amoco Station on Friday mornings on the way to school for the best home-made biscuits in town.

There were learning times such as when both boys practiced driving around the college campus, Sam sitting in my lap because he couldn’t reach the pedals, peering over the hood. Hank tall enough to manage the brakes and gas but still sitting up very straight to be able to see the road. I recall the concentrated look on his face.

There were talking times, where the car was parked in a driveway or in a shaded spot with many different passengers over the years–and filled with the good talks you can have only in a car–somber times when sad news was shared, serious times when questions of faith or theology or philosophy or relationships were discussed; times when problems were worked out, and stories were told. Times when important decisions were made and times when they were shared.

There were trips to Braves Games and to get braces in Augusta and to go to Camp Glisson and to D.C. from where we flew to France.

There were drives with young women friends down dirt roads, across a creek, to High Shoals, where we sang along with the Dixie Chicks, Wide Open Spaces at the top of our lungs with the windows rolled down and the dust flying around and then went hiking down the mile trail through the woods with a towel over our shoulder and a bathing suit on to swim–and sometimes skinny dip–in the ice-cold waterfalls.

There was a trip with a good friend and young parishioner two hours to a hospital to meet her mother and brother and her father who was helicoptored in, knowing he probably wouldn’t make it, but trying to not let on and keep her from worrying.

There were so many times in that car visiting hospitals, funeral homes, nursing homes, and parishioners’ homes, I could never count them, but I remember.

There was a trip to help rescue a friend’s son who was miserable at college. A trip to meet a friend at a track to walk when she confided in me with a face full of fear that she was in serious financial trouble and needed help.

There were times the car held hitchhikers, and desolate people walking down the road. When it held children as we went Christmas caroling to shut-ins. When it carried people to work in the Trinity soup kitchen or to go on a retreat at Lake Junaluska.

Times the car was packed with supplies for a mission trip or stuffed to the ceiling with beach gear and fun things for our annual vacation at St. Simon’s. Times when it hauled a trailer filled with furniture and pictures–and lamps!–during a move or carried recycling and stuff to the dump.

There was the longest trip I ever made in that car, after I received the call that my nephew had died. And then times of great joy afterwards with his brother, my sons, and young friends, together found healing in that car in the mountains.

Man, it was a rough day. But also a good one, in that bitter-sweet taste of yesterday.

I can’t tell you how much I’ve cried in that car and laughed. How much good music I’ve listened to.  How many things I’ve pondered. How many prayers I’ve said.

The car has almost 300,000 miles on it. That’s a lot of miles.

She’s been a good car. So good with her gray leather seats and CD player, her comfort and familiarity. I’ve hated to give her up, even though she’s been dying for quite a while.

I know a car is not a person, is not a living thing, but right before she died last week–when I realized I could no longer deal with the problems and uncertainties of such an old car, I had a conversation in my mind with her.

I had stopped at Kroger before I went to a restaurant to pick up a ‘to-go’ order. I thought to myself while sitting in the parking lot, this has been the best car. I have enjoyed her so much. I have driven her beyond her limits. It is time to let her go. She has fulfilled her function and purpose in giving us/me so many experiences, so many beautiful memories, carried us safely over so many miles. It’s not really fair to ask her to keep going.

So, I said to the car. “Thank you. I’m sorry that I’ve pushed you beyond your limits. It’s ok.”

And then at the restaurant, she died. can make of this what you want but all I know is, we had a relationship.

After I removed the last penny and rubberband, and had one more good look-over to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, I climbed into the driver’s seat, perfectly fitted to–and by–my backside. I leaned it slightly back. I rolled down the window and smoked one last cigarette. 

I smiled. I patted the dashboard. I said a prayer of thanks.

And then, I got out.


August 4, 2011

Dear Reader,


I think I am back to blogging.

More later..